After falling to a 3-1 series deficit, the Denver Nuggets shocked the Los Angeles Clippers and the NBA world to win this Western Conference Semifinals series in seven games. Jamal Murray scored 40 points alongside Nikola Jokic’s triple-double while the Clippers blew another double-digit lead. How did one of the NBA title favorites crumble this 3-1 series lead before our eyes? Last Word on Hoops breaks it down with this series recap.
Series Recap: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets
Los Angeles Clippers in Control Early
Aside from a game one blow out, the first four games of this series played incredibly close. Regardless, the Clippers got out in front to a 3-1 lead, thanks to reigning finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard. Leonard dominated with 29 points in game one leading the Clippers to a 120-97 victory. Los Angeles’ defense was in plus form. Leonard had three steals, two blocks, and nine rebounds, while Denver’s starters scored just 57 points on 20-for-48 shooting.
The next three games were decided by 11 points or less, with Denver taking game two but Los Angeles jumping out to victories in games three and four.
Jokic and Murray combined for 53 points and 21 rebounds in game two before Leonard took back control of the series.
The other superstar in Los Angeles, Paul George, played his best game of the series in game three. George scored 32 points with four rebounds and four assists, while Leonard blocked a late dunk attempt by Murray to secure the Clippers’ 113-107 victory.
The Los Angeles Clippers held the Denver Nuggets to 39.7 percent shooting en route to a 96-85 game four victory and the 3-1 series lead. It appeared this series recap would be written much sooner.
Then, with the Western Conference Finals in plain sight, everything changed.
Denver Nuggets: Down, but Never Out
Ahead of game five, for the second time in as many series, the Nuggets looked a 3-1 deficit in the face. The most resilient team in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, Denver overcame a 3-1 deficit to the Utah Jazz in the first round. And they rewrote that script again against the Clippers.
Nuggets head coach Mike Malone can thank his stars, Jokic and Murray, for this miracle comeback.
Over the final three games of this series, all elimination games, Murray averaged 29 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. His partner-in-crime, Jokic, averaged 24 points, 16.6 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game.
And the duo saved their best for last. Murray scored 40 points in game seven while Jokic put up an incredible stat line of 16 points, 22 rebounds, and 13 assists.
Adding to this story of resilience, the Nuggets rallied from double-digit deficits in each of these three elimination games. The comeback was historic according to Associated Press. Denver joined the 1985 Kansas City Royals and 2003 Minnesota Wild as the only three teams in the major American professional sports to bounce back from a pair of 3-1 deficits in the same playoffs.
While Murray and Jokic will steal all the headlines, the superstars in Los Angeles disappeared in the pivotal game seven. The duo of George and Leonard scored only a combined 24 points, eight assists, and 10 rebounds in game seven. The Clippers were at least -20 with either of them on the court.
After a seven-game series battle, the superstars in LA and in Denver played to their potentials, with Jokic and Murray having the last laugh.
In seven games, Jokic averaged 24.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game while Murray notched 22.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists.
For Los Angeles, Leonard averaged 24.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.3 steals per contest. George averaged 21.7 points, but only 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
The rest of Denver’s supporting cast never wowed with their stat lines but played incredibly consistently. The Nuggets had five other players average at least nine points per game including Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant, and Monte Morris.
For Los Angeles, the supporting cast did not live up to expectations. While Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris, and Lou Williams each scored at least 10 points per game, Ivica Zubac and Patrick Beverley simply did not show up. Beverley scored only six points, four rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game.
As a whole, the team stats were strikingly similar with Denver holding a small advantage in each. Denver shot 46.5 percent in the series to the Clippers 44.8 percent. The Nuggets scored on 35.8 percent of their three-pointers while the Clippers only notched 33.3 percent of shots from deep. Denver also outrebounded the Clippers 42.4 per game to 42 per game.
One note. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers became the only head coach in American sports history to blow three different 3-1 series leads.
Up Next for the Denver Nuggets
James is playing in his 11th conference finals, one of the most remarkable individual runs in NBA history. Jokic and Nuggets will have their hands full in this series. The Lakers took three of four regular-season contests against Denver, while Davis and James averaged close to 30 points each per game in those contests.